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February 25, 2010

The extraordinary history of the Kouprey (Bos sauveli), a species of wild cattle, has left it as one of the most enigmatic large mammals in Asia. There was surprise in the scientific community that such a large mammal should be described as late as 1937 from Cambodia, a relatively accessible country. Very little scientific information was available on this species until the mid 1950s when Charles Wharton organized an expedition to study and capture the species in Preah Vihear, northern Cambodia. Wharton's report contains almost the sole ecological data for the species.

Wharton was unsuccessful in his attempt to capture the Kouprey and the species disappeared into the fog of war and military occupation which devastated Cambodia for so many years. Uncertainty continued to surround the Kouprey, despite its absence from the scientific record. In the 21st century debate arose over its status as species with some authors considering it a hybrid between domestic cattle and Banteng (Bos javanicus) (Galbreath et al. 2006). This debate was terminated upon discovery of a skull of Kouprey from the Pleistocene (pre-dating domestication) (Vithayanon & Bhumpakphan 2004) and from genetic analysis (Hassanin & Ropiquet 2007).

WCS is currently conducting surveys to ascertain whether the species is still present in the Northern Plains of Cambodia.

Posted in: Northern Plains